‘A’ Level Certificate is Superior to Today’s BA Degree

Wed, 26 Oct 2011 Source: Owusu-Ansah, Emmanuel Sarpong

Yesterday’s ‘A’ Level Certificate is Superior to Today’s BA Degree

The truth hurts, and I am certainly going to be crucified by a sizable section of Ghanaians for daring to mention what I am about to pronounce; but we are advised to always speak the truth and the truth will set us free (quite similar to John 8: 32). I indeed feel incarcerated whenever I fail to enunciate the verity or I try to twist it.

As the world enters into a new millennium, the call for countries to become knowledge and skill based economies has become absolutely necessary, and contemporary industries’ demands for multi-talented and highly skilled professionals has intensified. The need for people to learn, adapt and apply knowledge and skills on a lifelong basis is consequently becoming more pronounced. This means that big degrees that are deficient in practical applications are not only empty but unwanted in this competitive world.

On Sunday the 23rd of October 2011, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana, Professor Ernest Aryeetey confessed on the Joy FM’s Springboard programme that the graduates that the nation’s leading universities are producing today do not satisfy the requirements or needs of the contemporary labour market, and that they ‘are producing some people that don’t deserve the degrees … [they] give them’. He made special mention of graduates’ poor articulation and communication skills, and their analytical weakness. I do applaud the Vice Chancellor’s sincerity but boo his failure to find or suggest a decent and concrete solution to the academic hitch identified in our beloved country’s educational system.

The key purpose of educational institutions is to impart the appropriate knowledge, training, skills and experience to learners, and to prepare them not only for qualifications but also and more importantly for future challenges. Imparting such knowledge, training and/or skills to the learner is a process that requires supreme professionalism – systematic approach, careful planning, and the use of appropriate resources (tools/facilities) as well as the employment of suitable teaching and assessment methods. Any educational institution that does not achieve the above mentioned objective is a failed institution.

It must however be mentioned that the success or otherwise of a student at the tertiary level and in the business world is considerably dependent on the kind of preparation made or training received at the primary or foundational (including secondary) level. Hence, it would be unfair to blame the rejection of the current Ghanaian graduates’ by the contemporary labour market entirely on the university authorities and educators.

As a matter of fact the assassinated old educational system (the ‘O’ and ‘A’ level system), just like the new one, significantly ignored the practical aspect of the learning process; it focused basically on the development of the theoretical knowledge of learners, and this it achieved to a considerable extent. Those who were privileged to complete sixth form demonstrated and maintained a high level of maturity and preparedness for future challenges. In general, their analytical ability, communication skills, control over the English language, and their ability to initiate new ideas were at least satisfactory.

Sadly, some empty-headed, purposeless and good-for-nothing political elites woke up one morning to declare their intention to terminate the old educational system without even consulting education authorities or experts in education. Their argument was to introduce a system that focused on both the theoretical and practical aspects of learning, and that sought to identify and develop individual skills or talents. The motive was not bad but the design and execution of the new system including the approach and the timing were terribly terrible.

What the government should have done before considering the introduction of the new or current educational system was to ensure that the resources or apparatuses that aid and enhance practical learning were available in at least all public primary and secondary schools and accessible to majority of the pupils/students. Secondly, more teachers should have been trained in a way that prepared them to effectively deliver the various subjects. Thirdly, the system should have first been experimented on a small number of schools, ideally the technical schools to establish it success rate.

By using the existing miserable resources for the implementation of the so-called new educational system which has a considerably shorter duration, the government was not only bringing the development of the nation’s once enviable education to a standstill but also embarking on what I prefer to call an act of academic terrorism.

The truth of the matter is that the old educational system focused on theory and paid less attention to practical experience because the necessary facilities/tools were absent. Most of the secondary schools that offered subjects in pure/natural science for instance either had no laboratories, or had labs that could aptly be called SAKORA LABS (empty laboratories). Technical schools also lacked well-equipped workshops. Very few schools had libraries let alone well-stocked libraries; and almost no school had computer rooms. There was therefore the need, not for a new educational system, but the provision of modern equipment/facilities, more trained tutors, and possibly the expansion of the curricula.

As expected, the current educational system has not only failed to encourage practical application of theory, but has also destroyed the theoretical aspect of the learning activity. Today, most students graduate from Ghanaian universities lacking maturity, communication skills, creativity, self-motivation, and the ability to speak or write good English (the official language of the nation at the moment) and to do critical thinking or embark on analytical discussions.

Do we entirely blame the non-performance of university graduates on university authorities? Absolutely not. Some people may not agree with me until they become lecturers and realize how difficult it is to completely transform a weak and less serious learner who has a poor educational background into a strong student. However, lecturers who establish sexual relationships with female students and pass them without subjecting them to the established learning and assessment process should bow their heads in shame. Do we blame it entirely on teachers at the primary level? Certainly not. How do we expect primary school teachers to perform when the necessary resources are lacking, the required training is not available, and the motivation is not there? Who then are to be blamed? We put at least 85% of the blame on the government that introduced the current poorly designed educational system, the incumbent government who has done almost nothing to improve the quality of education in the country and of course the students themselves.

There are a quite good number of graduates belonging to the new system who are enjoying career success because they took their education serious right from primary school to the university. Some are renowned lawyers, others are engineers and so on; they worked hard and are now enjoying the fruit of their sweat. But how can a student’s future success be guaranteed when he is more interested in inserting his dirty figures in the private part of a suspected female thief than marrying his books? How do we expect a student to make it in the superlatively competitive world of business when she is more interested in night-outs than lectures, and spends more hours in the night club and on facebook than in the lecture room and the library?

The introduction of modern and more realistic teaching and assessment methods including placements or on-the-job trainings can help. But until the whole educational system in Ghana is diametrically revamped and modern facilities are made available; until students begin to show much more interest in education and work harder than they are doing now; and until politicians stop messing around with the nation’s education, there is very little university authorities can do to reverse the rejection of graduates in the highly competitive labour market.

Emmanuel Sarpong Owusu-Ansah

Emmanuel Sarpong Owusu-Ansah (Black Power). He may be contacted via email (andypower2002@yahoo.it).

Columnist: Owusu-Ansah, Emmanuel Sarpong